Only showing posts tagged with 'history' Show all blog posts

The Unanswered Questions of Brexit

by YPU Admin on November 8, 2019, Comments. Tags: Brexit, Euro-scepticism, history, Humanities, PhD, Political History, and politics


‘Brexit means Brexit!’. The words of the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, in June 2016, on the steps of the UK Parliament. But what does Brexit mean? 

Hello, my name is Adam. I’m a first year History PhD student here at The University of Manchester and my research aims to understand the historical origins of euro-scepticism in the UK. The 2016 referendum produced a political crisis. The Vote Leave campaign narrowly ‘won’ 51.9 to 49.1 on a turnout of 72%. Questions of what it means to be a member of the EU, a member of The Conservatives, and much more broadly the British democratic system have been thrown into focus. 

For me, my interest in political history was sparked at a young age. I grew up with the backdrop of the Iraq War — campaigning as a part of the ‘Stop the War’ coalition. I was able to see how Politics has the ability to reshape our world, for better and for worse. Understanding the decisions taken in Westminster – and in constituencies – is therefore important for me.

In Depth... 

I am at the beginning of my research into euro-scepticism but already there are some important questions that have emerged. For example, why did the UK government, at the time, decide to use an open-question referendum rather than, say, a referendum on specific outcomes? Euro-scepticism is a subject that crosses traditional political boundaries but why? How far did ‘political education’, or lack of education, play in the mind of the voter? Did one group particularly benefit from worries of Europeanism? How far did the media present an unquestioning approach to scare stories?

I am in a slightly unusual position to be studying Brexit. As a historian, there is a tendency to look to events that are settled, although may be contested by historians! Yet, with the near daily developments with the UK’s exit from the European Union there is a wealth of new material emerging. This helps keep my research current, but it also throws up its own challenges in how I approach the topic.

Understanding political decisions is important for me. I returned to Manchester to complete a Master’s Degree (immediately before this Ph.D.) after a number of years in the ‘professional world’. It gave me an insight into the concerns and ambitions of businesses, yet I knew that I wanted to further explore my curiosity for History. After decided that I would leave my job, I quickly rediscovered my love of learning and had a wonderful opportunity to meet some amazing people (both academics and friends) who encouraged me to pursue my interest in historical politics further.

Ultimately, I would really like my project to contribute to a much more detailed understanding of how and why political decisions are taken. In this, I hope to contribute through various policy platforms and forums with the aim of ensuring that regional voices are included as much as ‘dominant narratives’ of the ‘Westminster Bubble’.

Going further…

Looking for further information about Brexit can feel a little overwhelming, trust me. However, understanding the origins of euro-scepticism allows us to narrow the field a little and there are some brilliant resources and blogs which help unpack the subject. For my experience, an excellent starting place is the ‘Britain in a Changing Europe’ Research Project run by Professor Anand Menon ( As an academic resource, it is thoroughly fact-checked and many of the contributors regularly appear in the media.

For a little further clarification of key terms and some of the ideas often discussed alongside Brexit (such as sovereignty, trade policy, and the Northern Irish ‘backstop’) see the London School of Economics and Political Science Brexit Blog ( Another resource that I regularly use is the BBC’s fantastic ‘Brexitcast’ ( Presented as a podcast (although now on TV as well) the podcast is a really informal way to get the inside track on news and gossip from the UK and Europe. 


The history of archaeology: A research-led approach


My name is Charlotte Coull, and I’m a third year PhD student at the University of Manchester in the History Department. I did both my undergraduate degree and my Master’s degree at Manchester before being lucky enough after applying to be offered funding by the History department to complete my PhD here.

I look comparatively at the history of archaeology in India and Egypt in the nineteenth century. Many people walk away with the idea that I am an archaeologist when I first explain my topic to them - however I am most definitely a historian and there is no digging involved in my work!

In depth

One of the most interesting things about research is that your topic and focus can change over time; as you read more, you become more aware of what has already been said about your subject, and most importantly you start to see different ways of looking at things and different ideas to pull out of your original material. This sounds intimidating, and you do need to be careful that you eventually find a path and stick with it (otherwise you will never get any work done!), but it can also be exciting. You have the opportunity to create something completely unique that will stand out from the crowd!

When I started my PhD, I knew I wanted to look at archaeology over a broad time and I knew I wanted my project to be comparative. My idea was to look for changes over time whilst looking at how and archaeologists reacted differently to what they found in India and Egypt - did they prefer Egyptian artefacts to Indian ones for example? All that hasn’t really changed. But what I have done is focused on stone.

Nineteenth century archaeologists in both countries discovered lots of things, including bones and pottery, but it was stone that really caught their attention in the form of temples, tombs, monuments and megaliths. Stone can be hundreds, maybe thousands, of years old; it can be in ruins or almost perfect; it can be huge, intimidating and strange because the people that used it, the people who built things from it in ancient times, are gone and cannot explain it. Take a look at the images here: this is the stone nineteenth century archaeologists would have found in India and Egypt, but unlike today they did not have technology like radiocarbon dating to tell them how old it was. They often did not know who built things or how.

Three years ago, I didn’t know this. I had not done the reading that told me that archaeologists in the 1800s were so perplexed by stone - it was only as my project progressed that I started to notice this and plan my work around it. Now my whole PhD thesis is looking at how archaeologists knew what they knew about Indian and Egyptian stone - or what they didn’t know.

To do this I work mainly with published material from the nineteenth century. I look at the language archaeologists used to talk about the sites they studied and the information they presented in these books and journal articles to their fellow archaeologists. If an archaeologist has written about how he found Indian temples confusing because they look so different to what he is used to in Britain, then it’s in my work; if an archaeologist has written about how amazingly old the Egyptian pyramids are and how spectacular it is to look at something so ancient, then it’s in my work.

History is a subject with so much potential to let you get creative and push the boundaries - your work can evolve with your thinking and reflect your changing interests!  

Going further - a wonderful website with blog posts about female pioneers in archaeology and other science fields. Click on the articles tab and explore! I would particularly recommend Hilda Petrie and Adela Catherine Breton. - not many people know much about India's archaeological history. This is the website of the Archaeological Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo gallery' tab and check out the massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!


What about the plants?! A merging of history and science

by YPU Admin on July 5, 2019, Comments. Tags: Bioscience, botany, history, HTSM, medicine, science, and technology


My name is Jemma and I am a second year PhD student in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (HSTM).  I took a somewhat roundabout route to this subject area. After finishing my A-Levels, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study at university. I enjoyed both Biology and Chemistry so ended up applying for Biochemistry at the University of Manchester in 2012. With a number of the bioscience degrees at Manchester, there is the option to do them as a 4-year undergraduate rather than the standard 3 – with the additional year being spent working in industry. By the time my placement year came around I realised that, whilst I found the theory and topics fascinating, I hated lab-based research. As a result, I chose to spend a year working at the Manchester Museum’s herbarium – the botany department of the Museum. My project with them centred on a 19th century medical collection called the Materia Medica, which contains plants, animal and mineral products that used to be employed in the teaching of pharmacy at Owens College (later this became the University of Manchester). I became obsessed! I changed my degree for my final year to Biology with Science and Society, which is basically a Biology degree with HSTM modules, and did my final year dissertation on the domestic use of opium (the plant extract which morphine comes from) by women in the 19th century. HSTM has been a great way to combine my love of history and science.

After my undergraduate degree, I received a 1+3 studentship to do my Masters and PhD in HSTM at Manchester. My Masters dissertation returned to the Materia Medica collection as I compared pharmacy education in Manchester and London in the 19th century. In 2018 I started my PhD, looking at the place medicinal plants had in 20th century pharmacy.

In Depth…

Pharmaceuticals drugs today are often presented as being created intentionally – often synthetically by chemical processes – and somehow separate from traditional medicinal knowledge. However, many drugs still have a basis in herbal medicine. So how did this perception come about? Why do we view modern drugs as being divorced from traditional knowledge practices? My research therefore focuses on medicinal plants, specifically within the context of conventional pharmacy, during the 20th century. It examines how plants were used as well as perceived following the rise of synthetic pharmaceutical drugs to present a more complicated history of drugs than a simple forward progression from traditional herbal knowledge of the 19th century to modern, synthetically produced drugs of the late 20th.

I really enjoy my research, but I don’t spend all my time just doing the PhD. I am a strong supporter of academics not just doing research but also engaging people with their work. I therefore split my time between doing my PhD and other activities (though with the emphasis on my PhD of course). Along with being a Widening Participation Fellow, I am a Heritage Guide for the University and still volunteer at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium. At the Museum, I often get involved with their events as well as designing activities myself (such as an activity on medicinal plants used by the Romans - I am also a big fan of interdisciplinary collaboration, having worked with members of the pharmacy department as well as artists on public engagement activities. My current project is setting up a podcast series, called In Pursuit Of Plants, dedicated to sharing cross-disciplinary research on medicinal plants – from history to biophysics – with the public. Along with other PhD students, I even co-organise conferences to promote interdisciplinary connections amongst Masters and PhD students at the University of Manchester. Whilst it is important to balance these so they don’t detract from my research, doing things beyond the PhD is very rewarding and a great way to get others excited about the topic.

Going Further…

Links to the In Pursuit of Plants podcast series and website can be found via our twitter page: @IPOP_Podcast

History of Science, Technology and Medicine is such a diverse field, to find out more about the types of research conducted in our PhD group check out our website:

For a look at some of the public engagement I have done, you can read this blog post (plus see the final video!) of a collaborative project with a creative from Reform Radio:

You can also follow me on twitter for more on my research (plus lots of photos from the Manchester Museum):

For more on the Biology with Science and Society with Industrial/Professional Experience see:


Researching heritage: Transporting people to transporting minds

by YPU Admin on January 4, 2018, Comments. Tags: Heritage, history, MSI, Museum of Science and Industry, PhD, and Research


My name is Erin Beeston and I’m a part-time PhD Student at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at the University of Manchester and the Science Museum Group. I’m working on a collaborative doctoral award, which means I work across two institutions: the University of Manchester and Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), Manchester.

I began my academic career at the University of Manchester in 2004, when I started a History undergraduate degree. During this time, I realised I’d like to work in heritage. The University Careers Service suggested I gain experience by volunteering and I began a placement at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium making digital records of historic botany specimens. Then I studied for a master’s degree in Art Gallery and Museum Studies whilst working part-time in museums. I used my academic knowledge, skills from my university course such as organisation, time management, accurate record keeping and presentation skills along with what I learnt though working and volunteering to start a career in museums. I worked at Salford and then Bolton Museum, mostly with social and industrial history collections. Although I enjoyed my work, I was interested in studying for PhD as I am passionate about research. I saw an advertisement by the Science Museum Group for a PhD student to work on the history of uses and perceptions of Liverpool Road Station (the site of the Museum of Science and Industry). As I had previously worked at MSI as an assistant presenter (doing fun things like children’s activities and helping with science shows), I was keen to research the museum’s rich history and applied for the project.    

In Depth

The focus of my research is Liverpool Road Station, which dates form 1830 and is the oldest railway station in the world. Whilst the early history of the station is well known, for many decades after the passenger service (1830-1844) it was a freight station – which has been overlooked by historians. I am working on both the history of the site and exploring how it was transformed into the museum during the 1970s and 1980s. I often visit archives to view primary sources about the site, these can be documents, maps or other visual sources. I have been to London to visit National Archives, to the National Railway Museum in York, viewed archives in Liverpool, Chester, Manchester and Preston. I have also recorded interviews called oral histories with people who either worked at the railway station or played a part in rescuing it and making the museum. This research is important to the museum, who are using findings to present the history of their buildings to the public, particularly the lesser known freight story. The results of my thesis are informing work on new galleries at MSI. I enjoy finding out new stories and ways of looking at the history of the site and discussing this with staff at the museum and the public. During my PhD, I have shared my research with other postgraduates, academics and the public through conferences and talks. I’ve even attended a summer school in Budapest! It’s a brilliant journey, finding out new things and developing ideas and arguments along the way.

Going Further

I undertook an undergraduate degree in History at the University: <>

My master’s was at the Centre for Museology: <>


My first experience working in a museum was at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium where I learnt about record keeping, digitisation and collections care: <>


Here you can find out more about the Science Museum Group’s research programme:


And the focus of my research - the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester: <>

At CHSTM we write about our work for this blog: <>

For example, I wrote a blog about my summer school experience at the CEU in Budapest! <>

Here you can find more about CHSTM and the modules available to undergraduates: <>


Ancient Egypt, Ancient India and the History of Archaeology

by YPU Admin on June 1, 2017, Comments. Tags: archaeology, Egypt, history, Humanities, India, PhD, and Research


My name is Charlotte Coull, and I'm a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester, based in the History department. I did both my undergraduate and masters degrees at Manchester, both in History, and was extremely excited to be offered both a PhD place and funding (the History department's own Elsie Farrar award) to continue my studies here. As part of my PhD I also lead seminars with undergraduate students, and have chosen to work as a Widening Participation Fellow because I firmly believe everyone should feel able to go to university if they wish.

In the future I'm hoping to get into public History, and connect with people about my research and encourage them to explore history in general, as knowledge is for everyone! 

In Depth

Many people walk away with the idea that I am an archaeologist when I first explain my subject area to them- what I actually do is look at the history of archaeology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with no digging involved! I study the work of British archaeologists in India and Egypt during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; I want to know how they decided what to dig up and study, how they wrote about the artefacts they found, and what they did with those artefacts afterwards (are they in Britain, are they in a museum basement, or did they stay in countries they were discovered in?). I also want to know how discovering the history of Egypt and India changed the way Britain thought about her own history, and why Ancient Egypt is so present in our minds today (think Pyramids, mummies etc) whereas Ancient India is not so well known.

Studying two countries may seem intimidating at first, but I find you can use comparative history to fully open up an area to explore: for example, I want to know what is was about Egypt in the nineteenth century that influenced British archaeologists to behave so differently to archaeologists in India, and what this can tell us about how archaeology as a discipline evolved. My work is also very interdisciplinary- I use aspects of the history of science, intellectual history and museology alongside colonial history and other ideas. One of my supervisors is from the History department, the other is from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine. I find interdisciplinary history incredibly exciting- why stick with one way of doing things, when you can craft your own style using your favourite aspects from multiple areas! 

I work with a variety of historical sources- I have to be creative with finding the material I study! I can go from looking at the personal letters of a famous scholar from the nineteenth century in the British library, to looking at museum records of object acquisitions and displays, to spending time on the internet looking for nineteenth century academic books that have been digitised. I have also recently decided to look at images as part of my research- so last time I was at the British library I spent a morning marvelling at early twentieth century photographs of archaeological digs in India.

I find people often see history as a static and unmoving subject- you pick a topic and are trapped in the library with dusty books looking at that topic forever. Nothing could be further from the truth! History is such a varied and broad subject, with so many different ways of approaching it; you can really get creative with your thinking and push the boundaries. What you find will never cease to surprise, and in some cases amaze you!

Going Further - a wonderful website with blog posts about female pioneers in archaeology and other science fields. Click on the articles tab and explore! I would particularly recommend Hilda Petrie, and Adela Catherine Breton. - not many people know much about India's archaeological history. This is the website of the Archaeological Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo gallery' tab and check out the massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!